Core values underlie nursing excellence

Headshot of a woman with brown hair smiling

For Sarah Currie, core values underlie her philosophy and approach to nursing and her work at Chief Nursing Executive at St. Jude.

My whole life I’ve known I wanted to be a nurse. When I was little, I was always bringing home birds with broken wings and setting up hospitals for my stuffed animals. From there, my sense that I was meant to be a carer only grew. I was raised in England, surrounded by family. I’ve come to believe that character is shaped not only by my inherent attributes but by the experiences and influences of the time I grew up in. 

One of the important lessons from my formative years came from my Mum. Mum was very big into charity work, and when I was a young child, I remember visiting with the elderly and delivering meals on wheels. We were going into houses of the old and poor, many of these houses were messy and unkept. But my Mum had a way of meeting people where they were, not judging their circumstance but rather leaning in, it was like she couldn’t see the mess around us but would matter of factly move a pile of dirty washing or magazines to make room for the hot meal we were providing.

I learned an important lesson in not allowing the thoughts running through my head to show up on my face. This proved an immense gift when facing many of the things I’ve seen as a nurse. It also showed me the impact kind gestures can have, and how connected we all are no matter the circumstance. You never know when you will be on the receiving end of someone else’s kindness and want to pay it forward. 

Hunger and homelessness have remained two causes close to my heart, and I believe if you know better, you have to do better. These values from my upbringing have been an important part of my nursing career. 

Growing into a career as a nurse and nursing leader

I completed my nursing training at the Southeast Kent School of Nursing. Training in the 1980s was still primarily hospital based, and the equivalent of a diploma program in the U.S. After a brief stint in geriatrics (how I loved the stories of the old folks), I moved to the special care baby unit, which is equivalent to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). I knew right away as I was training that I wanted to work with babies, but I didn’t know  that the decision would lead to an entire career working in pediatric hospitals. 

Around this time in my life some friends and I were going to do some world traveling, but as plans fell through, I still wanted to travel. I decided to pursue nursing work abroad because, at the time, the U.S. was recruiting heavily for foreign nurses. So, in the spring of 1989, I packed my life into two suitcases, waved my family and fiancé goodbye, and started my adventures in the U.S. I promised my mother I would be back in a year and 35 years later she’s given up asking when I’m coming home. 

I worked in California for 14 years serving mostly at the bedside in the NICU and then in solid organ recovery for transplant.  I completed my undergrad at Cal State and my graduate program at the University of Phoenix before uprooting my young family to move to Wisconsin.

For the next 21 years I worked at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in different leadership roles, preparing me for the job of becoming a Chief Nurse. I did not expect a move to Tennessee to be in my future, but then the opportunity came to become St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital’s Chief Nursing Executive. I think my life has its own twists and turns of fate balanced by some intentionality in how I got here. 

Woman wearing a polka dot dress speaks to crowd next to a podium

Sarah Currie speaks with her colleagues during Nursing Care Team Week, held at St. Jude in 2024.

Nursing culture at St. Jude

As Chief Nurse at St. Jude I’m responsible for setting and executing the vision for nursing care across clinical areas of the hospital. In partnership with our talented nursing executive team, we execute the nursing strategic plan. Additionally, our team oversees the inpatient and outpatient divisions, nursing surgical services, clinical logistics and the center for advanced practice. Over 800 nurses and advanced practice providers work within St. Jude, representing over 2,000 years of experience.

In partnership with our clinical areas, our nursing education program is responsible for all staff development including our nurse residency program; and Nursing Clinical Excellence coordinates our shared governance, nursing informatics, quality and magnet. I have a dotted line relationship with nursing research and global nursing, working closely with their efforts. 

We have a nursing philosophy of care centered around patients and families targeted to St. Jude including the mission of exemplifying excellence, celebrating life, fostering hope and practicing with passion. We align our nursing values to St. Jude core values grounded in relationship-based care and focusing on dignity and respect, information sharing and collaboration. 

St. Jude is a Magnet-recognized nursing program, a nursing accreditation administered through the American Nurse Credentialing Center. It is the hallmark of nursing excellence and only 9% of American hospitals have achieved this status. Magnet hospitals have improved patient outcomes, staff engagement and retention. A cornerstone to Magnet is a shared decision-making framework. This is where our nursing shared governance structure comes into play. We have 17 staff led counsels throughout our structure and this is vital to ensure our decisions are made with input from those closest to the work.  

Our career advancement program for bedside nurses includes five levels, giving a defined promotion pathway for those wishing to advance their career at St Jude. As contributing to knowledge through research is part of our core mission, nurses at every level in our organization have the opportunity to participate in studies to improve how we do what we do.

This is just a snapshot of what nursing encompasses at St. Jude. There’s a lot of exciting work going on in the world of nursing – it is both hard and rewarding in equal measure. 

A vision for the future

Providing care is a team sport across many disciplines with strong relationships at the foundation. In the 24/7/365 role at the bedside, the nurse is in a unique position to know the patient in the most intimate way. They serve as the behind-the-scenes conductor in the orchestra of caregiving, making sure all parts come together for seamless care delivery. 

I have always thought of nursing as an art and a privilege. To have the opportunity to assist people at their most vulnerable. To be able to meet them where they are at, to render aid and comfort and help them manage whatever life transition is ahead of them. It is the core promise of a nurse to care with empathy and compassion, trustworthiness, and social justice, ingenuity and human dignity. 

I love my role and that every day is different. I gain energy from the new generation of nurses with their aspirations and eagerness. I’m grateful for our seasoned nurses and how they provide their watchful eye over the care for all patients to ensure as a team we are at our best. I’m grateful for our dedicated nurse leaders who show up to motivate and inspire their teams and I’m grateful for our collaborators who ensure the best care possible for our very special patients and their families.

In my office I have a quote that reads, “how you spend your days is how you spend your life.”  I cannot think of any other way I would rather spend my days than working with our wonderful team, pursuing the inspirational mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

About the author

Sarah Currie, RNC, MSN, NEA-BC, is a Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Executive of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

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